The argument usually starts with this admonition from my wife: “You need to learn to say ‘No.’”
The problem is that by the time this conversation happens, it’s too late. I’ve already committed myself to a number of conflicting responsibilities. At the moment I say “Yes” to anything, I’m starting down a path that will ultimately lead to a discussion of priorities.
By saying “Yes” to some things, I’m saying to “No” to others.
For example, by agreeing to attend a district scout leader meeting on a Thursday night, I am saying “No” to spending a quiet evening at home, recovering from a busy day at the office, conversing with my children, reading my boys their bedtime stories and connecting with my wife a for a few minutes at the end of the day.
In hindsight, that seems like a high price to pay to attend a meeting, but at the time I say “Yes” I am delusional. I think I can do everything. I can pile commitments upon commitments without consequences.
Most disturbing is that this is a habitual failure. It started when I was in college. By my junior year I had amassed commitments all over campus, filled my day planner with a year’s worth of activity each week, and sacrificed necessary biological functions like eating and sleep.
Back then I failed to grasp how I got into these “Yes” messes. I couldn’t see it coming. It would pile up and all of a sudden I was buried, unable to escape my to-do list. Fast forward 20 years, and I have no excuse. I should know better.
I have a family that needs unstructured time with me. I have to get enough rest to function at work. The consequences of overcommitting are more serious.
It would be too easy to blame the New South, to call this a symptom of a busy, digital age in which inputs never stop and failing to unplug robs us of time to connect with the important people in our lives. And it would be misplaced to blame all the people who ask me to do things. No one puts a gun to my head.
My friend and mentor calls saying “No” being “socially firm.”
Is it genetic? With a family in ministry, I’m just one in a group of over-committers, biting off more than we can chew in our schedules to do good for others while we fail to give ourselves the time we need to be restored.
Is it mental illness? What form of OCD makes a person compulsively say “Yes” to everything and how deep does one have to be in denial to think he or she can do it all?
Is it just poor judgment? It’s not like what I’m saying “Yes” to is bad. I’m choosing to do a good thing, but often at the expense of doing the best thing.
It’s still the beginning of the school year, and parents everywhere are helping their kids adjust to the demands, the schedules, and the extra work that must be done for the next nine months. Just as their kids have a routine they must return to, parents who give their time to their kids’ schools, sports teams, scout groups, church activities and music rehearsals and performances have to gear up mentally for the 9-month grind.
In my defense, my biggest volunteer commitments are overlapping for only two-and-a-half months. I’m learning to enlist help. I’m trying to pick activities that put me into greater contact with my children. The time I’m giving away will have a return.
But still, the question remains: Why do I do it?
I want to help. I have an overdeveloped sense of obligation, a duty to give back to causes that have benefitted me or that benefit others.
I have recently turned down two significant time commitments, so maybe I am learning. But when the schedule is overflowing already, it’s not really that difficult to see that nothing else can fit.
It’s August, and it’s a long way until June when things can calm down again. There will be highs and lows, but getting through it is all about time management.
And saying “No” to anything else.
Where are your soft spots when people ask you to do things? Is it volunteering? Is it supporting your kids’ activities? Is it your church? Is it social commitments? How do you say “No?” Say “Yes” to leaving a comment below and share your wisdom.